Wakefield Trinity v Castleford Tigers: England prospect Tom Johnstone ready to be unleashed
AFTER two months on the sidelines, one of Super League’s most thrilling talents, Wakefield Trinity wing Tom Johnstone, is poised to make his comeback in tonight’s home derby against Castleford Tigers.
Johnstone suffered concussions in successive games at the start of April and was stood down by Wakefield after struggling with persistent symptoms.
The left winger has been an unused member of Wakefield’s squad for their past two matches, but coach Chris Chester confirmed he will make his comeback this evening.
“He has passed everything,” confirmed Chester. “He has seen a neurosurgeon and done a lot of work with Stuart Dickens, our player welfare manager.
“Nobody has been more desperate to get back out on the field than Tom and we have had to rein him back a little bit, which we did last weekend.
“He is in a really good spot mentally and knows what he needs to do to get in the England team at the end of the year.
“He has got some real competition, who have probably got a leg up on him because he has been out so long, but I fully expect a fit Tom Johnstone to be in the England squad.”
Johnstone was initially hurt in a game against Wigan Warriors. He recovered from that, but suffered another head injury during a Challenge Cup defeat by Catalans Dragons the following week.
Chester conceded it has been a worrying time for both the player and his club.
“First and foremost is the welfare of the person,” stressed Chester.
“Tom has been through a lot the last three or four years. I think he has played something like 66 games in four years and he has had two knee reconstructions in that time.
“But every time he has come back, he has come back really strong. We are delighted we have got one of the best wingers in the competition and our number one winger at the club back fit and ready to go.
“I am pleased for Tom that he has got through it, we were all concerned initially.
“We were worried for Tom and also worried our number one winger might not be back until late in the year.
“It has taken its time, but he is fit and raring to go and fingers crossed he has a good game [tonight].”
Johnstone will not be the only Trinity player hoping to impress England coach Shaun Wane.
Loose-forward Joe Westerman, who is being linked with a move to Castleford next season, was this week drafted into the national squad, along with teammate Reece Lyne.
Chester has been pressing Westerman’s case for much of the current campaign and insisted his call up is “thoroughly deserved”.
He said: “When I look at the competition at the moment, I don’t see many better loose-forwards. I have been really impressed with Ben Garcia at Catalans, I think he has been very good, but obviously he’s not English.
“Joe is doing all the right things on and off the field and he is a big influence on the individuals around him as well.”
Kelepi Tanginoa and Jordan Crowther could also return from injury and Matty Ashurst is available after a two-match ban.
Though they lost at Warrington Wolves five days ago, Wakefield are aiming for a fourth successive home win.
They have not beaten Castleford since February 2015, a run of 14 straight defeats, but Chester feels the time is right to end that dismal sequence.
“We have got everybody back and we’re playing some good, attractive footy,” said the Wakefield coach.
“I think we’re in a really good spot.
“We should go into this game really confident.”
Castleford may have been the dominant force in derbies against Wakefield over the past six seasons, but in terms of recent form they are the underdogs this evening.
Coach Daryl Powell’s side have lost their last four Super League fixtures – though they did beat Warrington in a Challenge Cup semi-final 11 days ago – leaking 154 points in the process.
Powell said: “We are conceding points at the moment, we want to sort that out.
“There’s no better team than Wakefield at the moment, I don’t think, to put yourself up against to see where you’re at defensively.
“You are going to have to make a lot of one-on-one tackles and that challenges individuals’ mentality, so we have to be in a good place from a toughness perspective.”
Powell added: “What we are trying to do at the moment is get our form back and get some fluency in our game. We’ve had that at sporadic times, but we haven’t really been consistent this year and we want to sort that out as soon as we can.”
Niall Evalds, Suaia Matagi, Jordan Turner and Gareth O’Brien could all return to Tigers’ side and Daniel Smith is also in the initial squad, but Adam Milner drops out from the team beaten by Hull last Thursday.